How far is a reasonable distance for someone to hike on their first trip?

I understand this depends on a lot of variables, such as the person's fitness, the route they are planning to do, etc, but some approximate numbers would be helpful.

In my specific case, we're both very active. We've been weight training in the gym for the last 6 and 11 years respectively - and it shows.

Our plan is to hike during June this year, so we have time to train. Is it realistic to think we could do Cumbria Way in The Lake District, or West Highland Way in Scotland?

  • 6
    Are you planning day hikes or multi-day hikes? For multi-day hikes, are you planning to stay in cabins or in a tent? Do these cabins have food or do you need to carry your own? Do they have cooking facilities or do you need your own?
    – gerrit
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 20:29
  • Single day hikes to train for a multi day hiking trip, staying in a b&b, and only needing to carry lunch.
    – Jon
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 21:49
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    Weight training doesn't do much for hiking stamina. You want erobic exercise for that. Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 0:38
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    @OlinLathrop Erobic exercise? So um... this?
    – Mr.Wizard
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 16:29

3 Answers 3


Start by day hikes where you can frequently exit. For example, find a day hike where after 2 hours, one has the option either to cut it short to a 2½ hour hike in total, or to extend it to 4 hours, and after 4 hours, one has again the option to cut it to 4½ hours, or to make it 6 hours.

If you've done this for several days and find out that 6 hour day hikes are fine for you, you can start doing hikes reaching more remote places where you don't have such an "exit strategy". Make such hikes for several days.

If this goes fine too, you can start planning multi-day hikes. Again, start easily: do hikes where you have an exit strategy. Hike from cabin to cabin (easy in much of Europe, harder in N-America; don't know about other places), where one can decide each day to stop the next day, or to continue for at least one more day.

In summary, when unexperienced, I recommend to build flexibility into your planning. Some unexperienced hikers have no problem hiking a week on stretch. Others find within 2 hours that they have had enough for the day. The only way to find out is to try it out; take it easy, and have an exit strategy.

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    Good advice. Don't neglect the exit strategy. If you get out there, wish you had a way out, but don't you'll be more inclined to seek a way off the trail. Better to have exits planned along the way. Knowing they're there takes the pressure off. Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 2:27
  • Russel Steen's answer is also very good, but I chose this answer because it showed a clear progression towards a goal, and the exit strategy seems too important to overlook.
    – Jon
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 7:16

Gym training, especially body building, weight training, and strength training do not translate well to hiking, so don't count on that to carry you and get you through.

If you are new to hiking/backpacking, I would advise the following for "first hikes":

  • Not more than five miles
  • Not more than one night
  • Test hike with your planned shoe/sock combo
  • Eat like you would to work out
  • Written checklist for gear

Specifically as a weight trainer, watch out for these mistakes:

  • Don't carry too much. Most weight trainers who go with us overload the first time. It kills their feet. Yes, you can easily lift a 50lb pack. Your feet cannot yet handle that for mile after mile.
  • Get good shoes.
  • Gym clothes are not hiking clothes.

I know that some of this may sound obvious, but these really are mistakes that we've seen on trips we've led. Unless you are going with an experienced partner, then a long hike your first time out is (imo) a serious mistake. You have to ramp up not just your body, but your experience.

If you build up for distance, then don't worry about the distance limit. Remember to train some with the weight and gear you will actually carry. I would still recommend not being more than a day from civilization as a "first" outing, just due to experience. You really don't want to be 2-3 days from civilization when you first learn that what you planned for (insert something vital) isn't going to work.

  • How would your answer change if I built up by taking small hikes as mentioned in the months leading up to a multi day trip in June?
    – Jon
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 21:51
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    +1, Especially on the "Don't carry too much." Carrying a heavy pack doesn't prove anything. Be smart, read up on ultralighting. Traveling light restored the fun of hiking for me. Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 2:28
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    +1 For test hike. Before all long hikes I ever did, I packed my FULL gear and went for a 1-day, 1-night hike. To make sure I feel fine with the combination of equipment I have, and also to see if I miss something or if I can't resign from something I have packed. As for weight, I once had a 30kg (60lb?) backpack, and had to cut a 2 week hike short to 5 days, and down to 12km(7.5 miles) a day instead of my planned 20km(12.5 miles). I was fit, but in retrospect I could have lost 6kg of weight in that backpack(2nd camera Lense, 2 books incase I got bored, inflatable pillow, ... you don't need it) Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 11:13
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    Most sporting activities are about intensity. Hiking is about endurance. I have a nephew who is 10 years younger than me and would destroy me on the court--and can't understand how I fare better hiking (and he has no idea that he's never seen me do anything beyond what I would consider easy.) Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 23:01

If you've greatly built up your muscles it does not necessarily mean you will be a better hiker. Many body builders have big upper muscles but do not work on their legs. Running can help here not just strength but stamina. Even if you are very strong, carrying a heavy rucksack is not advisable without a lot of practice, building up the weight you carry.

You will need to make sure that all your equipment is comfortable. Strength does not protect against blisters. You'll need to make sure everything fits. Rucksacks have lots of straps and buckles that need adjusting for best comfort, and you'll be able to get everything sorted out before your main holiday.

On the West Highland Way there are lots of places to get food and places to stay. Some Youth Hostels. There are many guide books for details.

If you are going camping it is also best to practice. That way you will find it easier to put up a tent in bad weather and when it's getting dark.

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